Make Room for Tears

Make Room for Tears:

Reflections on Readings for Pentecost 19 C

Amos 6:1a, 4-7, 1 Timothy 6: :6-19 and Luke 16:19-31



Here’s to the millions embarrassed by tears.

They turn away. They stare at their feet. They avoid company and even cancel their doctors’ appointments and stand up and walk out on church services.

There is a name for them: “Bleeding hearts.” Sometimes those they love think them weak and take offence or look for a divorce.

But I say, “Hallelujah! Your soul is still alive!”

This Sunday in the Church year the Word warns us that while poverty is hard on people, wealth can be even worse. The Lord is on the side of the oppressed and will always provide. We pray for daily bread–for just enough to get us through the day, and the Lord always provides. If not bread for the body, then bread for the spirit that commands the body.

But too much is deadlier for the soul than too little. It seduces. It sedates. It weighs down.

Perhaps above all, too much stuff carries with it too much attending worry. Each little thing we build our lives around has the potential to become part of our superstructure of life. We begin to think it is something we not only enjoy, or like, but also need. It is part of our identity.

And with that notion of need, comes the worry. If it malfunctions or wears out or is stolen, what, in heaven’s name, shall we do?

Before long we have filled up our souls with so much worry that we begin to believe we haven’t the capacity to care for anything else.

“Charity begins at home!” we declare. And we have so much to worry about at home that charity ends there too.

That is why it seems so weak and silly and delusional to cry about that homeless beggar at the off ramp or those Syrian refugees.

When you have so much you need so much and you worry so much and there simply isn’t any more room for tears for others. Of course we disguise the worry with more stuff – pills, booze, entertainment; and all the things we call the good life. But it still fills our souls they die of too much that never feels like enough.

(Not to mention the defenses we erect to protect our souls from the good tears of repentance. When we are privileged any talk of equality sounds like oppression to our ears.)

So poverty hurts, but wealth can kill the soul. Ease can make us numb. We wind up like the rich man in Jesus’ parable who deftly steps over and around miserable Lazarus at his garden gate.

What does God do to help us when we have so much more than enough that we fall into a drunken stupor of the soul?

God sends us the prophets: Moses, the other Old Testament prophets, the apostles, and latter-day gadflies who poke and prod us till we can make room in our lives for tears again.

The author of 1 Timothy rouses these prophetic voices in the church to command. He calls for an echo of Jesus’ “new commandment” that we love one another as he has loved us. We might not be able to legislate morality, but Jesus and the prophets can and must command it.

There are several parts to this command. First, we are commanded to make room in our hearts for tears once again by pushing back all that worry about the things we want, but we don’t really need. You should be discontent about the “ruin of Joseph” Amos says–be stirred up by the sickness in the society around you. But that means you have to be less worried about your own comfort. So the author of 1 Timothy tells teachers in the church to command Christians, “Be content with food and clothing–the “daily bread” you pray for.”

Then 1 Timothy also calls on prophetic church teachers to command the wealthy “not to be haughty,” i.e. not to think of their wealth as conferring status or worth. Don’t build your hope on your riches–on your stuff. Stuff can and will always let you down. Turn away from “the Devil and all his empty promises” we used to say in our baptism liturgy. But rely on God who is the one who provides what we need AND what truly brings joy in life. And the best way to do this–to set hope in God–is to do good. That is, to be generous in sharing whatever you have with others who have less.

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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